The four-day week is really what is says on the tin: Full-time employees work four days a week instead of the traditional five, with no reduction in salary. So an employee would work around 28-32 hours over four days and have a three day weekend. This differs from compressed hours, where an employee works full-time hours over four days. There has been much debate for years over the benefits of a shorter working week and as the pandemic has shifted how we work, more and more businesses are now willing to take the plunge.
This summer, more than 30 companies in the UK are starting a six month trial of a four-day week, where their employees will work a four-day week and be paid the same amount as if they were working five. The trial is led by the campaign group spearheading the movement 4 Day Week Global, along with think tank Autonomy and researchers at Cambridge University, Oxford University and Boston College. Researchers will work with each organisation to measure the impact on productivity in the business, the wellbeing of its workers, as well as the impact on the environment and gender equality.
European countries implementing the four-day week
After a study found that reducing the number of hours worked each week while keeping pay the same increased productivity, Iceland will soon be implementing the four-day working week, scaling down hours, with already approximately 86% of the country’s workers working 35 hours a week on full pay. With the aim of boosting the employment rate and providing flexibility for employees, recent labour market reforms in Belgium will introduce the option of more flexible schedules, the right to disconnect from the workplace and for those who want it, four-day workweeks. Spain, Scotland and Ireland all have trials planned.
The benefits of a four-day workweek
At first glance the pros of this arrangement for the employee are obvious, but there’s actually plenty in it for an employer too.
Better work/life balance
A New Zealand company Perpetual Guardian introduced the four day week after their trial found workers’ sense of work-life balance went from 54% to 78%. Stress went down, and the missed hours didn’t affect job performance, which actually slightly improved.
An in-depth examination by Sanford (not Stanford) University, revealed that overworked employees are actually less productive than those employees working an average or normal working week. Perhaps unsurprising, when some of the world’s most productive countries, like Norway, Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands, on average work around 27 hours a week – the same hours proposed for a UK four-day work week.
Gallup research has consistently found that workers want more flexibility and that job flexibility is correlated with higher employee engagement. Fewer hours in the office means there’s less time to waste, so focus goes up and people get their heads down to an extent that may not be maintainable on a five-day, 40-hour schedule. The end result is a workforce that’s well-rested, appreciative and motivated and available to commit themselves more wholeheartedly to their work when they’re in the office.
Retaining and attracting talent
It’s estimated that the ‘Great Resignation’ has led a quarter of British people to consider quitting their jobs. Burnout and stress have been major causes of employees choosing to move on. Employers have responded to the talent shortages by increasing pay and improving benefits. Now they’re looking at workplace flexibility to help employees better manage their work-life balance, to improve staff retention and as an effective way to attract new talent.
An equal workplace
Research on the Gender Pay Gap from the Government Equalities Office shows that roughly two million British people are currently not in employment due to childcare responsibilities and 89% of these are women. A four-day work week would promote an equal workplace as employees would be able to spend more time with their families and better juggle their care and work commitments.
Planning a four-day working week
Numerous studies show moving to a four-day week boosts productivity and workers’ wellbeing. If this, plus the thought of lower operational costs for the businesses have you sold, what do you need to think through when considering a change from your current setup to a four-day week?
- Are your leadership team on board? Do they understand what you’re trying to do and why?
- Are any of your employees already overworked?
- Consider how the change will impact the team. What are the benefits and negative impacts to the business and individuals?
- What does the detail look like?
- Will you need to work differently to ensure all tasks are completed, and can you serve your customers to the same standard, will you need to multi-skill team members?
- Know your team – understand how this will impact them. What are their commitments outside of work?
- How flexible can you be and what happens if the new structure won’t work for everyone?
- Write a business case. Know why you want to make the change and focus on selling the new way of working. Consider any fallout and the timeframe.
- Consult with the workforce. Begin by holding a group consultation meeting. This allows an open conversation, where the team can collectively talk about the proposal.
- Hold individual consultation meetings. This gives individual employees the opportunity to raise concerns about the aspects that impact them directly. Be prepared with any answers to questions.
- If all are in agreement, propose a trial period.
At The HR Consultants, we know happy employees are great for business. A four-day working week shows your people that you care about them, enough to fundamentally change how you do business. Talk to our HR experts to figure out if a four-day week could work for your company.
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